At Lincoln an amazing battle developed between Sir George Gilbert Scott and the cathedral architect, John Chessell Buckler. Scott thought that Lincoln Cathedral was ‘the most beautiful in all England’ and as it is in an area where he had strong local connections, he must have badly wanted to add it to his list of work. In 1861 the Lincoln Diocesan Architectural Society asked Scott to design a new choir pulpit to commemorate the preaching of its vice-president and chairman, the Reverend Edward Trollope (1817-1893), who had just become a Prebendary of the cathedral. It is an elaborate affair by Ruddle and Thompson, with carved panels by Jay and a tall canopy matching the medieval woodwork of the choir. It was not installed until 1866 which was the year that Buckler published a scathing attack on Scott’s restoration methods. At Oxford in 1861, Scott had had to reface the University Church of St. Mary’s, only four years after Buckler had already refaced it in Oxford stone from the Headington quarry. Buckler, as an Oxford architect, should have known that this stone has notoriously poor weathering qualities. Buckler’s incompetence led to Scott replacing him at St. Mary’s, but what seems to have so enraged Buckler was that Scott had written to the Dean of Lincoln criticising his work on the cathedral at the instigation of a ‘cabal’, presumably meaning the Lincolnshire Architectural Society, without actually seeing the work himself. In the letter, dated 1 July 1859, Scott said that:
having had some experience in restoration, in venturing to offer, with the utmost respect, a few remarks on the works which I hear are going on at your Cathedral.
He had ‘heard with dismay’ that the destructive process of chipping off the old surface of the stonework, which he had hoped had been discontinued, was being extended at the cathedral. Five years later, after he had been to Lincoln, probably in connection with the pulpit, and seen Buckler’s work, Scott again wrote to the Dean. In this letter, dated 19 September 1864, he said:
I entirely disapprove of the scraping over the surface of old stone to give it a fresh colour: it tends to the furtherance of decay, rather than to the arresting its progress.
Scott’s appearance at Lincoln after the Oxford fiasco seems to have given Buckler the idea, not without some justification, that Scott was trying to supplant him and he seems to have panicked. He told the Dean that ‘Mr. G. G. Scott has not taken the trouble to understand his subject’, and in December 1865, when Street added his criticism, he told the Dean that Street, ‘like his exemplar, is a biassed and an incompetent judge’. It was probably Street’s intervention which finally prompted Buckler in 1866 to publish his massive 300 page tirade against Scott and his restoration methods. It was entitled A Description and Defence of the Restorations of the Exterior of Lincoln Cathedral, with a comparative examination of the restorations of other cathedrals, parish churches, &c. In it he said:
Mr. G. G. Scott is not the right sort of friend to ancient Churches; their walls groan under his prescriptions and his operations; death and destruction to antiquities follow his footsteps in many more instances than can be enumerated on the present occasion.
The Ecclesiologist called it an unprovoked attack in an ‘extraordinary book’ and backed its defence of Scott by publishing a supportive letter from Beresford Hope. Buckler was seventy-two years of age when the book was published and, maybe because of fulsome self-praise, he managed to stay on as cathedral architect at Lincoln until July 1870 when he was replaced by Pearson. Scott was delighted with Pearson’s appointment and wrote him a letter of congratulation.
If Scott ever coveted Lincoln, Pearson’s reply in January 1871 shows why he was no longer interested. Pearson offered his wishes for Scott to return to health and urged him to:
… be careful to not to work so hard. There is a limit to man’s powers. He may not discover it for many years but a time will come when it becomes necessary to husband his strength.
Murray, [King, R. J.], Handbook to the Cathedrals of England, Southern Division Part I, Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Wells (John Murray, London, 1861), p. 254.
Lewis, M. J., The Politics of the German Gothic Revival, August Reichensperger (M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1993), p. 238.
Fisher, G., Stamp, G. and Heseltine, J., (eds), The Scott Family, Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Avebury Publishing, Amersham, 1981), 51.
Cole, D., The Work of Sir Gilbert Scott (The Architectural Press, London, 1980), p. 84.
Jackson, Sir T. G., Bt. R. A., Recollections, The Life and Travels of a Victorian Architect (Unicorn Press, London, 2003), p. 234.
Buckler, J. C., A Description and Defence of the Restorations of the Exterior of Lincoln Cathedral, with a comparative examination of the Restorations of of other Cathedrals, Parish Churches etc. (Rivingtons, Oxford, 1866), pp. 5, 9, 11, 82, 92-3, 96, 265.
Webster, C., and Elliott, J. (eds), ‘A Church as it should be’, The Cambridge Camden Society and its Influence (Shaun Tyas, Stamford, 2000), p. 186.
Colvin, H., A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1995), p. 178.
Owen, D. (ed.), A History of Lincoln Minster (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994), p. 274.
Quiney, A., John Loughborough Pearson (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1979), p. 128.